2. Go back in time in the old town
Entering Faro's Old Town via the Arqo da Vila / Image: Getty Images
A peaceful haven tucked away from the cacophonous modern city outside, the Cidade Valha or Old Town feels like a village out of time. Take in the gloriously detailed pavement mosaics – or calçada portuguesa, language fans – and enjoy the serene romance of the whitewashed houses and terracotta rooftops that have remained the same since time out of mind. For best results, enter the town as old seafaring folk used to, underneath the handsome baroque Arqo da Vila arch – a romantic entryway through the hallowed medieval walls, transporting visitors back to a simpler era.
3. Find real market value at Mercado Municipal
The city's main market is a sacred spot for locals / Image: Alamy
Don’t be put off by its unromantic name. Faro's Mercado Municipal is a sacred spot where real locals come to shop, natter and people watch. In a handsome, whitewashed downtown pile, local traders hawk great glistening mounds of seafood – caught that very morning – and irresistible treats from local family bakers. Browse around and soak up the sights and smells – there are a couple of ace florists in the mix too – or stake out a spot on the terrace to nibble a sublime pastel de nata.
4. Baroque up to an holy ossuary
The bare bones of Igreja do Carmo / Image: Getty Images
Bone up on your Algarve history at Igreja do Carmo, a sacred site renowned across Portugal for its ravishing beauty and architectural significance. First, worship the grand façade and uncannily detailed accompanying sculptures – only the best artisans and their chisels were allowed anywhere near this 18th-century masterpiece. Then, contemplate your own mortality and the ephemerality of being at the Capela dos Ossos or 'Chapel of Bones', the walls of which are decked with the skulls, tibia, fibula et al of some 1,200 willing Carmelite monks. Not morbid at all.
Rua do Carmo, north of Old Town
5. Deep dive the Museu Marítimo Almirante Ramalho Ortigão
Before it became internationally synonymous with beach holidays, the Algarve was a world-leading maritime powerhouse. To understand what life was like for those salty seadogs of yore, drop anchor at the Museu Marítimo Almirante Ramalho Ortigão, an eye-opening collection of military artefacts and priceless antique fishing gear. The dinky model ships are worth the ticket price alone, and there’s lots to learn about the natural history of the region too. You'll have to sea it to believe it.
Rua Comunidade Lusíada, 8000-253, São Pedro
6. Work your grey matter at the city's science museum
Science comes to life at the Centro Ciência Viva do Algarve
If you’re lumbered with kids and the weather’s looking iffy, you could do a lot worse than spend a few hours tinkering with the interactive exhibits at this fun little museum. Centro Ciência Viva do Algarve is especially good on marine science and the coastal biosphere, but there are also illuminating insights into light refraction, wobbly tectonic plates and old-school Newtonian physics. Exhibits change all the time but expect plenty of cool robots and techy stuff to keep little ones entranced. And, let’s face it, quiet.
Rua Comandante Francisco Manuel, São Pedro
General entry €4
7. Shell out for oysters
A bevy of beautiful Portuguese bivalves
Many beaches around Faro, and especially the nearby Ria Formosa Natural Park, are renowned for their sumptuous bivalves. Sample the goods in exquisitely plated style at swish, contemporary Lodo (at Rua Conselheiro Bivar 55). For a more traditional oyster, unadorned and washed down with a crisp glass of white, give Taberna Modesto (at Largo do Castelo 2) a whirl. For ultimate date-night bragging rights, take that special someone to Estaminé on Ilha Deserta, where the sea views and top-drawer nosh conspire to create the ultimate ‘aw shucks’ oyster experience.
8. Drink in the vibes at Columbus
Get loaded on brilliant tipples at this beatific bar
For a sophisticated sup in a properly historic building, set sail for Columbus Cocktail & Wine Bar. World-renowned for its specialist blend of cutting-edge mixology and handsome 600-year-old setting – right on the waterfront, too – the place is always well attended by both in-the-know travellers and local Portuguese movers and shakers. After sinking a few ultra-seasonal, immaculately presented tipples, you might struggle to navigate. A bit like Columbus himself, you might say.
Praça Dom Francisco Gomes, Old Town
9. Embrace muscular Christianity at Faro Cathedral
The castle-like exterior of Sé de Faro
If you think all cathedrals are much of a muchness, prepare for your holy-smokes moment. The Sé de Faro was erected in the late 13th century, so soon after the region had been reconquered from the Moors that it still bears a rugged, militaristic vibe. It's not your average cutesy church building; in fact, the tower has seen earthquakes and invasions in the intervening years, taking them all in its stride. When you're done eyeballing the masonry, climb up the campanile for exquisite views over the city.
11 Largo da Sé, Old Town